Benzodiazepines are a type of tranquilizer that depress the central nervous system. They are powerfully sedative and work by impacting the brain’s neurotransmitter Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (also known as “GABA”).
The brain’s neural network transmits messages through GABA. Benzos increase the amount of GABA that gets produced in the brain. The result is that GABA sends messages to calm the nervous system down.
Doctors frequently prescribe benzodiazepines (also known as “benzos”) to treat anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. They can also be used to treat other mental health issues, including insomnia. Sometimes, doctors administer benzos through an IV as a sedative before surgery. Benzos are prescribed under over 200 different drug names, including Xanax and Valium.
Unfortunately, it can be easy for people to start craving the soothing feeling of taking benzos. This can lead to an addiction that causes health, financial, and relational issues. People who become addicted to benzodiazepines struggle to work their regular schedule, leading to family issues, financial troubles, legal challenges, and other problems.
How Common Are Benzo Withdrawals and Overdoses?
Doctors have been prescribing benzos at a high rate. Studies show that there has been a 67% increase in the number of benzos prescribed between 1967 and 2013. So, naturally, the more people taking benzos, the more common the withdrawal symptoms and chances for overdose.
Benzodiazepine overdoses are relatively common, especially benzo overdoses connected to using another depressant, like alcohol or opioids. Combining the two antidepressants can be deadly.
In 2020, over 12,000 Americans died from a benzo overdose, most involving at least one other controlled substance. That is a stark increase from 1999, when fewer than 2,000 people died of a benzo overdose.
For the most part, benzos are prescribed for short-term use ranging from 2–4 weeks. However, even this short amount of time can be enough for a person to start forming an addiction. However, addiction symptoms tend to materialize after someone takes benzo for 3–6 weeks or longer.
Studies show that 15–44% of people who use benzo for 3–6 weeks experience withdrawal symptoms after they stop taking the drug. Around 40% of people who use benzos for six months or more extended experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms, while 60% have mild withdrawal symptoms.
This research shows how common it is for people who have taken benzos for even a short time to experience withdrawal symptoms. So, if you or a loved one is going through painful withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines, know this is common.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Benzo withdrawal symptoms can show up within 24 hours of an individual stopping their usage and can last several days or weeks.
Signs and symptoms of withdrawal from benzos are common to withdrawal symptoms of other types of drugs, including:
- General irritability
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle pain
- Hand tremors
- General aches and pains
- Profuse sweating
- Panic attacks
- Racing pulse
- Hypersensitivity to light and touch
- Blurred vision or seeing flashes of light
- Difficulty focusing or remembering things
It’s common for people to experience benzo withdrawal in three different stages: early, acute, and protracted. A medical detox is recommmended for people who are going through benzo withdrawal. Medical supervision is essenital to ensure a safe and comfortable withdrawal process.
Early withdrawal symptoms may materialize within 24 hours of a person taking their last dose of benzo and last a few days.
Acute withdrawal symptoms appear within about five days of taking the last dose and can last several weeks or longer. Acute withdrawal is often the most challenging stage of benzo withdrawal and is when many people relapse to avoid uncomfortable and painful withdrawal symptoms.
Protracted benzo withdrawal symptoms can appear unexpectedly, sometimes months after a person has taken their last dose of benzo. These symptoms can be particularly distressing and can last 12 months or longer. These symptoms typically show up in people who have taken benzos for longer than they were prescribed or who misused the drug.
Are you or a loved one struggling with Benzodiazepine Abuse? Connect with us at the AToN Center to learn about our luxury rehab treatment and what we can do to uncover your path to recovery.
What Influences Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms?
Unfortunately, anyone who takes benzodiazepines is at risk of developing withdrawal symptoms, even if they use them as prescribed.
However, certain factors can impact the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
1. Dosage and length of use
The higher the dosage and the longer a person uses benzos, the more likely they will develop severe longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms.
2. Misusing benzos
People who misuse benzos by taking them at a higher dosage or frequency than prescribed or combining their use with alcohol or other substances are at higher risk of becoming dependent. These people are also more likely to develop severe withdrawal symptoms. Benzos are highly addictive and habit-forming, so it is not uncommon for people who never intended to misuse them to take more than the prescribed dosage.
3. Ingestion method
People who ingest benzos through a pill are less likely to have intense withdrawal symptoms than those who directly inject or snort the drug, as these methods will deliver benzos directly into the individual’s bloodstream for an instant effect. Also, those who ingest benzos and alcohol or other substances are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
4. Benzo type
As mentioned, there are several different types of benzos. They can be broken down into two primary categories: short-acting (e.g., Xanax) and long-acting (e.g., Valium). While withdrawal symptoms are often similar for both types, short-acting benzos can cause faster and more severe withdrawal symptoms.
5. Underlying medical conditions
People who have pre-existing disorders are typically more likely to misuse prescribed medications.
Benzodiazepine Treatment Options
In general, it is not advisable for someone misusing benzos to quit “cold turkey.” Doing so may jeopardize their health and lead to severe withdrawal symptoms or premature death.
A better benzo treatment option is supervised detoxification, such as the detox services offered at AToN. This round-the-clock monitored detoxification will ensure the patient is safe at all times. It includes using some medications to ensure the patient’s comfort so their bodies can get much-needed rest as they embark on their journey to sobriety.
Detox is just the first step in managing benzodiazepine withdrawal and addiction. At AToN, patients are given valuable tools and resources to help them stay off benzos once they leave rehabilitation.
Want to know more about benzodiazepines and other depressants? Check out our Benzodiazepine Ultimate Resource Guide to learn about this harmful substance and how dangerous it can really be.
Find Help at the AToN Center
Recovering from a benzodiazepine addiction can be very difficult. The drug changes the brain’s chemistry and leads to painful withdrawal symptoms that can feel unbearable. Detox and addiction treatment are essential for recovery from benzo addiction.
At AToN, we offer medical detoxification in a luxurious setting to help people get through benzo withdrawal in as much comfort as possible. We also provide a continuum of care after detox to promote long-term recovery and health.